Four months

Friday, March 16, 2012

To me, it seems like I've been here for far longer than four months. I've learned so much in the four months I've been here, yet not nearly as much as I could have. I've made what I hope to be life-long friends, and it's hard to believe I've known them for less than four months.

Last month I was very negative in my view of Taiwan, but this month I've begun seeing it a little differently ... first and foremost, I feel like the people here are of higher quality than back in New York City. Even in something as simple as selling you a snack out of a cart on the side of the street, great care is taken in not just the customer service, but ensuring that the product is good. In New York City, a salesperson in a similar position would not wipe off excess water, tuck the tub carefully into a bag, or hand you your change with reverence. Now that I'm away, I can see very clearly that "time is money" is not just a saying, but a creed in New York City. Time is money is a quick buck is greed. I think this week's New York Times op-ed by Greg Smith gives voice to what so many people have been thinking for some time now.

Taiwan seems to remain relatively untouched by this pandemic greed, though, and that warms my heart. People don't work unnecessarily long hours, customers come first, and businesses work hard to earn your dollar. Of course, on the other side of this is occasional extreme nationalism, which affects a lot of areas. For example, health and nutrition.

Although I find Taiwanese (and many Asian and European) sanitary habits to be a step below that of the U.S., I have found that the Taiwanese are very, very health and beauty conscious ... to a level I find ludicrous. A news story that's gotten a lot of air time here is the "American beef" story. American cows are injected with growth hormones (we all know this already), and apparently the Taiwanese president agreed to buy American beef more or less in exchange (in an "under-the-table" way) for visa-less entry to the U.S. for those with Taiwanese passports. And then it was uncovered that although this news has only surfaced now, the Taiwanese have been eating American beef for some time now.

When the public found out, they went seriously up in arms. Many people have begun abstaining from beef out of fear of, I don't know, developing a third eye or leg or something. And then they discovered avian flu in their chicken eggs, so many don't eat chicken meat or eggs anymore ... and now they've discovered growth hormones in their pork, so they're not eating THAT anymore ... For a time, they put Australian and New Zealand beef on a pedestal ... until it was discovered that their cows, too, have been injected with growth hormones ... ten times as concentrated as the ones in American beef.

So ... I don't know. They can't eat beef, chicken, pork ... and the extremely health-conscious won't even eat sashimi or much fish because of the nuclear waste found in the waters surrounding Japan. So ... what can they eat? I've been eating American beef all my life (as far as I know!) and I'd like to think I'm alright ... but truth is, it's not going to get that much better, at least not for the lower and middle classes, no matter where you go. Population growth and greed have created an unsustainable monster that can only be kept at bay through unnatural technological means (and, in other industries, an endless cycle of cheating and lying to cover up the cheating). So ... "what do you expect?" is all I have to say ... you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

This is already much longer than I meant for it to be, and I haven't yet covered what I find to be Taiwan's odd obsession with beauty and prevention, but I'll get to that soon ... I won't wait until next month, that's for sure!

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